Downward Dog Shoulder Alignment

DOWNWARD DOG

SHOULDER ALIGNMENT 

How Yoga Props Enhance Your Downward Dog

ADHO MUKHA

ALIGNMENT QUESTIONS IN DOWNWARD-FACING DOG

How many times have you done Downward-Facing Dog in your yoga practice? I can’t answer that either. It’s a posture that shows up in a yoga class quite often. It just becomes part of the foundation of a physical practice after a while. When you started your practice, you may have been told that it’s a resting posture, but it doesn’t always feel like that, does it? It takes some time for it to feel “right” or even “comfortable.” You’ve most likely navigated through things like the following:

Should my heels touch the mat?

How far apart should my hands be from one another?

What about the direction of my hands?

How far apart should my hands be from my feet?

Should my wrists feel this way?

Is it ok to bend my knees?

This list goes on. 

Over time, you start to develop a deeper understanding of the pose and to develop and integrate patterns in your body that feel “right.”

As you continue to learn and grow in your practice, you may also reach a point where you begin to wonder if these patterns are actually serving you. This wondering may come from pain and/or injuries that arise, or simply from exposure to different practices and/or teachers. What often happens is that once you get comfortable with “the way you’ve always done it,” the challenge may be to consider a different way and/or to add on some new actions to actually improve not only the posture but also the health of your joint placement/alignment in the posture.  

It is important, however, to be open to the process of “unlearning” and the process of developing new patterns. The important perspective to take when you encounter times like this in your yoga practice is to understand that it is all a part of growth and your specific journey to learn more about your own body. It’s actually an opportunity. Approaching your practice with an openness to opportunity often leads to the unraveling and to access to new breakthroughs in your practice. 

SHOULDER REVELATION

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  • Increase strength and flexibility
  • Decrease risk of injury
  • Release shoulder tension
  • Learn anatomy and biomechanics
  • Access a wider range of postures
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  • Learn binds, heart openers, and arm balances
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WHAT IS SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT?

“Shoulder impingement is a common condition believed to contribute to the development or progression of rotator cuff disease.” 

Ludewig, Paula M, and Jonathan P Braman. “Shoulder impingement: biomechanical considerations in rehabilitation.” Manual therapy vol. 16,1 (2011): 33-9. doi:10.1016/j.math.2010.08.004

Shoulder impingement and/or a pinching sensation in the shoulders is a common complaint when it comes to the execution of Downward-Facing Dog. You might feel this in early attempts to do the posture or after repeating patterns like drawing your shoulders away from your ears, which may cause pain or irritation in the posture.

In the video, Matt explains quite nicely by saying that when you draw the scapulae (shoulder blades) away from your ears, the upper arm bone (humerus) collides with the acromion process. This action and collision is what creates the impingement, or “pinching.” This pinching can create pain or discomfort or may even lead to injury. From a visual standpoint, how do you know this is happening? Matt explains that you can see what looks like a “dimple” in the shoulder when the humerus is pulling down away from your ears. For further information for proper alignment in Downward Dog, you can also check out Matt’s blog 3 STEPS TO AVOID SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT IN DOWNWARD-FACING DOG.

WATCH THE VIDEO: DOWNWARD-DOG SHOULDER ALIGNMENT

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USING A ROLLED UP YOGA MAT FOR DOWNWARD-FACING DOG

Rolling up a yoga mat and using it as an additional prop provides excellent feedback and even assists you in the execution of the steps to set up Downward-Facing Dog. It helps to create new patterns in your body to avoid shoulder impingement in this foundational posture.

 Matt details exactly how to use your mat by following these steps:

  1. Place a rolled-up mat horizontally across the top of your mat.
  2. Place your hands in front of the rolled-up mat.
  3. Move backward into Downward Dog (bend your knees and send your tailbone to the sky).
  4. Lifting them up, move your armpits forward toward your hands. 

What’s happening here is that this action will activate the rhomboids, and the upper trapezius will activate from the lift of the armpits. This will also support the movement of the top of the shoulder blades going inward while the bottom of the scapula are protracting.

This step also provides a great opportunity to check in and get some feedback within your body. If you’re putting a lot of pressure into the yoga mat, then you know you’re dropping the armpits down and are causing the sub-acromion pinch. Matt offers the cue here of reaching through the outer lines of the arms so that the scapulae upwardly rotate.

 “During normal motion, the scapulae will upwardly rotate and posteriorly tilt on the thorax during elevation of the arm in flexion, abduction, scapular plane abduction, or unrestricted overhead reaching.”

 Ludewig, Paula M, and Jonathan P Braman. “Shoulder impingement: biomechanical considerations in rehabilitation.” Manual therapy vol. 16,1 (2011): 33-9. doi:10.1016/j.math.2010.08.004

5. Externally rotate the humerus (biceps face forward, and pinky edge of the hand pulls bottom portion of scapula around).

After these actions are put into place, you may feel like the inside edge of your hand is pulling up, so articulating the next step is important.

6. Turn your palms down (the radioulnar joint pronates the forearm, and this is a separate action that happens specifically at the forearm, separately from the action of the external rotation of the humerus).

7. Turn hands out a little more and wider (this also helps to create less chance of shoulder impingement).

8. Heels of the hands are lifted (again, creating that lightness and less touch against the yoga mat). 

Not only will this create less impingement, it will also strengthen the flexors of the wrist, which will feel better and allow you to feel more safe.

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SIMPLIFY THE STEPS FOR MASTERING DOWNWARD-DOG SHOULDER ALIGNMENT

In the video, Matt offers what’s called a “Mock” or “Modified” Downward Dog on your knees. Here are the steps:

  1. Lift armpits 
  2. Lengthen — shoulders to the ears 
  3. Go up and back
  4. Externally rotate the arm bones (biceps face forward)
  5. Lift heels of the hands (carpal tunnels)

Integrating these new actions may feel quite awkward once you start to gradually implement them. They may not feel quite “right.” This is that process of “unlearning” and creating new neuromuscular patterns in your body.  Eventually they will start to feel more “comfortable,” and you will notice the change in the development of your strength. Setting this foundation will help to support your journey in other postures in which it is necessary to utilize strength and balance from your shoulders, forearms, and hands.

If you enjoy diving deeper into the potential of your body and of the yoga practice as a whole, you can deepen your studies in Matt’s 200 and 300 Hr. Trainings.  

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Chaturanga Alignment Part 2

Chaturanga Alignment Part 2

3 Steps to Apply Shoulder Actions

CHATURANGA

CHATURANGA: Integrating Shoulder Actions

Integrating the 3 Necessary Shoulder Actions into your practice can be complicated, so to help you I have come up with 3 Steps to Master your Chaturanga. If you haven’t yet watched Chaturanga Alignment: 3 Necessary Shoulder Actions  then it is best to start there and come back to this afterwards. The 3 step process will help you develop “Muscle Intelligence” or the awareness of how to create specific actions in your body to find less complicated positions which require less strength and give you the space to explore new sensations. If done consecutively, these steps will build the strength over time that will make chaturanga feel light and free.

Most of us sitting at our computers are not able to get up and start practicing, but if you do have the liberty of doing so, practice along with this video. If not, then simply watch and come back to it at another time so you can practice along. This is meant to help you apply the actions, not just understand them.

Be patient with yourself as you work through each of the exercises – techniques take time to embody.

The Intention 

Perhaps the most confusing thing in the yoga community is the myriad of opinions about how to do each pose. Part of the reason for this is the differences each of us have from body type, to personality, to experience. Additionally, however,  each of us offering a path has a different intention behind our set of alignment cues or muscle actions. It is for this reason that I want to be clear that this is only one approach, and I am happy to provide for you the benefits and the challenges that come with this way. This approach to Chaturanga comes with the intention to build strength in multiple forearm muscles, the seratus anterior, triceps, external rotators of the the humerus, and the pectorals major. With all of these muscles working together to build strength you will inevitably feel more stable and light in your chaturanga and jump back to chaturanga, and also you will be well prepared for arm balances. If you have no intention of building strength in your upper body or practicing arm balances, there might be better ways of practicing Chaturanga. If you have a movement pattern that does not allow you to do protraction without upward tilt of the scapula then you might be better suited to a softer approach for a while. If you are experiencing chronic strain or compression in your wrist joints you may find leaning back in your chaturanga may be either better or worse for you. I mention this not to deter you from fully understanding and integrating this approach to chaturanga, but to help you to understand that there is never and will never be one correct approach to anything. What is good for you now may not be good for you later, and what was good for you yesterday may not be good for you today. This may be hard to grasp but if you try to keep an open mind and let yourself explore various approaches with the utmost attention to detail, you may find a greater sense of mastery in your body than you could ever find by doing one posture “the right way.” If you are ready to build strength, and/or set your self up for arm balances and jump backs, then let’s get started together!

3 Step Integration

When learning to integrate new muscle engagements or structural alignments into your practice, it is beneficial to simulate the shape with less stress on the muscles and joints. This usually entails changing your relationship to gravity. In the video and in the 3 steps below, I show you how to do this by doing chaturanga at the wall first, and then on your knees before trying the full posture. Doing these steps often provides a greater proficiency than simply trying it all out right away. This is because your body will always fall into its normal patterns when it’s asked to hold all your weight. We have to shake things up a bit to learn something new.

Step 1 - Chaturanga at The Wall

Regardless of your level, doing chaturanga at the wall and applying the three shoulder actions is huge in helping build masterful proprioception. This is the most important step in my eyes, especially since you’ll have plenty of time in class to practice step 2 and 3. Taking all the weight off of your body and just applying the actions until it is fully integrated and completely clear in both mind and body will be the best thing you can do. Mastery is not about halfway getting something, but rather nailing it down so that it will never be forgotten regardless of how long you leave the subject of study. Rock this exercise several times for several days/weeks and you will be well set up for building strength rapidly. Strength builds rapidly when our actions are precise in our body.

Step 2: Chaturanga on Knees

To be honest, when I take a vinyasa class, I do the first 5-10 chaturangas on my knees to get my body and mind linked together prior to floating back. Chaturanga on the knees is a great way to practice the actions with slightly less body weight. This is where you will begin building muscles appropriately, so be as precise and mindful as possible so you are strengthening the muscles required for the 3 shoulder actions. My best advice is start with your shoulders a little bit past the wrists to simulate the leaning forward when coming from plank. With your knees on the ground you can’t actually shift forward so you’ll have to begin by placing your knees closer to your wrists than you normally would. Second, make sure you create one long line from shoulders to knees, without breaking at the hips.

Step 3: Plank To Chaturanga

When attempting full chaturanga with a block, it becomes easier to compensate and “fake it” and either over engage in muscles that are not efficient for the actions, or simply getting caught up in compression – placing your bones in the way of the movement in order to slow the movement down – SEE  FIRST VIDEO when I talk about “Upward Tilt” of the scapula.

Mastering these shoulder actions will not only make your practice of chaturanga easier and more enjoyable, but will open up a whole new world of power and strength in your arm balances.

If you find yourself struggling to integrate the actions in this version, I highly recommend focusing on the first two options for about 3-5 months and then coming back to this.

Complexity

The shoulders are incredibly complex and as a result, it takes quite a lot of self-practice and study to gain any sort of mastery.  I break things down into small steps so that you are able to integrate the actions in your body more easily, however these steps are just the beginning. Let these actions settle into your body over time; rather than forcing them into every chaturanga, pick one action to focus on in your classes and first observe what you are doing before you make changes. Little by little, try to apply the action and notice what it feels like each time. This is a highly effective approach that builds patterns in the body and awareness in the mind. If you are interested in more shoulder strengtheners and stretches check out the Handstand Training. It comes with several videos that directly target the shoulders. Thank you for stopping by. Please share your comments, questions, or requests for other blog topics!

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Down Dog: Avoid Shoulder Impingement

3 Steps to Avoid Shoulder Impingement

in Downward-Facing Dog

Should You “Relax Your Shoulders” Away From Your Ears?

In my previous blog, “The Yoga Cue That Could Be Destroying Your Shoulders,” I explained how taking the arms up overhead while dropping our shoulders down our back could be a recipe for shoulder impingement. Many teachers use Downward Dog as a “resting pose.”  In my experience, I have found that “relaxing” in Downward Dog is quite often the reason for most shoulder issues but can easily be rectified with the 3 cues I provide in the video and photo breakdown below: 

  1. Externally Rotate the Humerus
  2. Pronate the Forearms (not directly related to the shoulder but balances out Step 1)
  3. Elevate the Scapula 

Elevation of the scapula happens when you lift your shoulder blades upward, which is like “shrugging” your shoulders, or when you excitedly reach your arms up to the sky. We naturally let our shoulders lift when our arms go up, but since many instructors cue the opposite, it is easy develop a pattern that does not serve the health of our shoulders. In addition to the verbal cue of “soften your shoulders,” gravity also causes issues if we don’t actively resist when we are in postures like Downward Dog, Forearm Stand, Handstand, or in a jump forward. My suggestion is to strengthen the muscles that elevate the scapula (upper trapezius and serratus anterior being the primary ones) in order to develop the pattern that can help to avoid shoulder impingement.

Many people cringe when I suggest strengthening the muscles that lift the shoulders up, saying something like “but my shoulders are stuck up by my ears, shouldn’t I relax them down?” The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is that muscles hold tension when they are weak. Your shoulders are likely up by your ears because of stress, rather than excess strength . . . unless you are a world champion bodybuilder . . . then ignore this. We also have muscle-holding patterns, which means that when we hold our neck, head, and arms in one position for most of the day, it will cause the muscles to become accustomed to holding those positions, and as a result you will be somewhat stuck in that shape. Simply pulling your shoulders back down will not relax the trapezius; rather, it could cause more stress, and the muscle could become more aggravated.

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BUT ISN’T IT IMPORTANT TO RELAX MY NECK?

Relaxing is undoubtedly important, and it will help release tension in your mind and body. At the same time, muscles relax from being activated properly and then released. You have certainly experienced this after engaging your muscles in a good workout or yoga class and then the incredible relaxation afterwards. Stretching a muscle can help release tension at times, but more often than not, I find active engagement or passive shortening of a muscle is far more effective. When a muscle is healthy and strong, it is better able to relax.

Follow the 3 easy steps in the video below to avoid shoulder impingement, and you will grow stronger in your trapezius muscles and rotator cuff.

Maintaining Joint Space

Research indicates that externally rotating the humerus helps to move the supraspinatus tendon away from the impingement area under the acromion process. Essentially this means that by rotating your arm bones outward (biceps turn forward) you are less likely to pinch the the soft tissues that run between your arm bone and the shoulder socket. 

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Other Helpful Muscle Engagements

Research also shows that activating both the biceps and triceps at the same time  can actually support creating more space in the glenohumeral joint  (where the arm meets the shoulder socket). You can do this by actively pushing the arms straight, and then try to squeeze your hands toward each other like a bull dog.   It is challenging to do oppositional muscle engagements so this takes a bit of exploring. First work on straightening the elbows and activating the triceps. When you squeeze your arms toward each other you will also get the added benefit of activating the adductor muscles which can also support more space in the shoulder joint.

DOES THIS APPLY TO HANDSTAND AS WELL?

Your shoulder joints do not know the difference between downward dog and handstand – aside from the gravitational pull, the shoulders are in the same alignment in downward dog as they are in handstand, this is called flexion. When the arms are flexed over head, you are at risk of impingement. The only difference is that in handstand you have to compete with gravity and so you will need to increase your efforts. You will find much more on this subject in the online course titled Handstand Part 2: Balance.

Step 1 - Externally Rotate the Arm Upper Arm Bone

Rotating the humerus externally when the arm goes up over head can help to avoid the impingement interval in the joint. One of your rotator cuff muscles, the supraspinatus, runs through the glenohumeral joint (under the acromion process and above the head of the humerus). This muscle helps to lift the arms up from tadasana, but because of its location it is easily pinched if the arms go over head but the shoulder blades don’t follow the movement. Downward dog is often the culprit- the weight of the body on the shoulders requires that we put effort into the posture to push the ground away, however with cues like “relax your shoulders” and “soften” we often release the appropriate muscular action required to maintain space resulting in shoulder impingement. In plain English – Externally rotate your arms (triceps rotate toward your face) and you will maintain more space in the joint and less potential for impingement. 

Step 3: Upward Rotation of The Scapula

From the outer line of your shoulder blades press through your hands into the earth. When you elevate your shoulder blades toward the ears from the outside line of the arm, the bottom wingtip of the scapula begins to rotate out and up – this is known as upward rotation of the scapula. As a result of upward rotation your shoulder blades rotates and angles itself to allow the arm bone to be overhead without a collision of bones in the joint, creating less possibility of impingement. 

Step 2: Pronate the Forearm

When externally rotating the upper arm bone you will notice that the lower arm (forearm) will go along for the ride and rotate as well. This results in an increased pressure in the outside of the hand and wrist. To evenly distribute the weight to the whole hand, simply pronate your forearm, by rotating the inner forearm and hand down toward the ground. Many teachers will stress this by asking you to press your index finger and thumb down. Depending on your range of motion in your radial ulnar joint,  you may not be able to press the inside edge of your hand down and maintain external rotation of the shoulder. My suggestion is to turn the hands slightly outward if this is the case. Learning to rotate the forearm in opposition of the upper arm bone can be challenging, but through mindful repetition you will be able to do it, and you will feel an increased strength and stability from it. To Strengthen your wrist, I highly recommend Handstand Training

The 3 Actions

While I have broken this down into 3 steps, with time and practice it can be 1 step and the 3 actions can happen all at once. To build muscle coordination it is useful to separate the actions and practice them individually. Though I created a definitive order to follow, know that it is beneficial to mix up the 3 steps and put them out of order. You may find another combination to work better for your body! The dotted red line above is to indicate the path of the bottom wing tip of the scapula. If you do not do push the bottom wing tip will wind up closer to the spine, it is helpful to video yourself to see where your shoulder blades are on your back. 

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Depression of the Scapula

Pulling your shoulders down away from the ears is the opposite of everything I have mentioned in this post, however it is an important action to work on especially for arm balances like side plank because depression creates stability when the arms are at or below shoulder height.

When Can I Relax My Shoulders?

One of the best parts about getting stronger with shoulder elevation (upward rotation) is that the muscles of your upper trapezius will become more supple and be able to relax more easily. Just like after working really hard in a yoga class you feel that complete relaxation in your body, each of your muscles experience that after being strengthened. There are plenty of opportunities to relax your shoulders down your back – just not when you reach your arms overhead. So when you are sitting at your chair you can think shoulders move slightly back and shoulder blades relax downward. When you are in a strong posture like crow pose and your upper arms are not over head, you can even work on strengthening the muscles of depression of the scapula. My philosophy on the body is that there are no wrong actions or muscle engagements, there are just appropriate and inappropriate times to use them.

A great rule of thumb you can take with you: when in doubt just let your shoulders follow your hands – if the hands go up, let your shoulders go up, if they go down let them go down, if you reach forward let them go forward, etc. Enjoy your exploration, thank you for stopping by!

-Matt

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Open Splits

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Avoid Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder Impingement

The Yoga Cue That Could be Destroying Your Shoulders

 

“Relax your shoulders”

There probably isn’t a single yoga teacher out there, myself included, who hasn’t used the verbal cue “relax your shoulders away from the ears.” This cue can be totally innocent and helpful to point out unconscious patterns related to stress or posture, but it can also lead to some serious shoulder injuries when the arms are overhead. Shoulder Impingement is common amongst dedicated yogis, and many people have blamed chaturanga as the culprit. It has become more and more obvious, however, that downward dog is where most students are creating the issue. To be clear, downward dog is not the issue, it is the way in which many students do the pose that causes shoulder impingement.

When we take one arm up overhead, eventually the shoulder blade and collar bone have to lift and rotate in order to maintain space in the joint. If you pull your shoulders down while your arms go up, you are not allowing the necessary rotation that allows you to maintain space. As a result, you will cause pinching or friction in the joint space where muscles, tendons, and subacromial bursa run through. If you continue to force this action repeatedly you can expect pain or injury.

You are most likely fine in standing poses simply because you’re not likely to force your arm up high enough to create the compression or impingement. Most people unconsciously bend their elbows when they reach up with their arms in poses like tree pose or warrior one – this gives the illusion or feeling that the arms are reaching up vertically while still keeping their shoulders soft.

On the other hand, in poses like downward dog, the shape itself in combination with its relationship to gravity makes it challenging to maintain space in the joint unless you understand how to elevate your shoulder blades toward your ears, and protract them away from each other. These two actions in combination with external rotation of the upper arm bone (triceps/armpits turn toward face) will create upward rotation and help to maintain space in the joint. Rather than offering the cue “relax your shoulders”, many yoga teachers give an amazing hands-on adjustment that indirectly creates more space in the shoulders. If you have had your hips pushed up and back or thighs pulled back then you know the feeling, but you probably were sensationally distracted by the stretch in your hamstrings. What actually moves your hips up and back if you don’t have the assistance of your teacher is the elevation of your scapula – think shrugging your shoulders.

 

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When you elevate and upwardly rotate your shoulder blades you will not only bypass impingement, but you will increase your range of motion. This is also the key to getting out of the banana back handstand or forearm stand. With these actions, you give yourself the opportunity to have enough range of motion or “flexibility” that allows for the arms and rib cage to be at the same angle. This is definitely easier said than done. When you are upside down and have the entire weight of your body, you have to be strong enough to elevate your scapula. Picture this, you are standing on your feet, you reach your arms up overhead and then you shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Then your entire body weight is placed on your hands. Your shoulders would want to fall down. This is basically what it feels like to do a handstand at first. With the right exercises, you will get stronger. If you are looking for exercises to help build strength and awareness in your shoulders I highly recommend The Handstand Strength Training video, which provides amazing exercises to build strength specific to poses with arms overhead.

To sum it up, try allowing your shoulders to rise up whenever you lift your arms overhead. Watch the video above to gain a clearer understanding of these actions

So Why Have I been told to relax my shoulders?

The cue to relax your shoulders is great when we are in postures where the arms are out to the side or lower. In Warrior 2, depressing the shoulder blades down the back can be stabilizing and strengthening. Postures like chaturanga and other various arm balances are also great opportunities to work on the depression of the scapula. When the arms are overhead such as down dog, handstand, and forearm stand there is fairly great risk in pulling your shoulders down, and there is a great opportunity to develop health in the trapezius muscles when you elevate the shoulders upward. 

Other Helpful Muscle Engagements

Research also shows that activating both the biceps and triceps at the same time can actually support creating more space in the glenohumeral joint  (where the arm meets the shoulder socket). You can do this by actively pushing the arms straight, and then try to squeeze your hands toward each other like a bulldog.   It is challenging to do oppositional muscle engagements, so this takes a bit of exploring. First work on straightening the elbows and activating the triceps. When you squeeze your arms toward each other you will also get the added benefit of activating the adductor muscles which can also support more space in the shoulder joint.

Step 1 - Externally Rotate the Upper Arm Bone

Rotating the humerus externally when the arm goes up overhead can help to avoid the impingement interval in the joint. One of your rotator cuff muscles, the supraspinatus, runs through the glenohumeral joint (under the acromion process and above the head of the humerus). This muscle helps to lift the arms up from tadasana, but because of its location, it is easily pinched if the arms go overhead but the shoulder blades don’t follow the movement. Downward dog is often the culprit- the weight of the body on the shoulders requires that we put effort into the posture to push the ground away however, with cues like “relax your shoulders” and “soften” we often release the appropriate muscular action required to maintain space resulting in shoulder impingement. In plain English – Externally rotate your arms (triceps rotate toward your face) and you will maintain more space in the joint and less potential for impingement.

Step 3: Upward Rotation of The Scapula

From the outer line of your shoulder blades, press through your hands into the earth. When you elevate your shoulder blades toward the ears from the outside line of the arm, the bottom wingtip of the scapula begins to rotate out and up – this is known as the upward rotation of the scapula. As a result of upward rotation, your shoulder blade rotates and angles itself to allow the arm bone to be overhead without a collision of bones in the joint, creating less possibility of impingement.

Step 2: Pronate the Forearm

When externally rotating the upper arm bone, you will notice that the lower arm (forearm) will go along for the ride and rotate as well. This results in increased pressure on the outside of the hand and wrist. To evenly distribute the weight to the whole hand, simply pronate your forearm by rotating the inner forearm and hand down toward the ground. Many teachers will stress this by asking you to press your index finger and thumb down. Depending on your range of motion in your radial ulnar joint,  you may not be able to press the inside edge of your hand down and maintain external rotation of the shoulder. My suggestion is to turn the hands slightly outward if this is the case. Learning to rotate the forearm in opposition to the upper arm bone can be challenging but through mindful repetition, you will be able to do it and you will feel increased strength and stability from it. To Strengthen your wrists, I highly recommend Handstand Training

The 3 Actions

While I have broken this down into 3 steps, with time and practice it can be 1 step and the 3 actions can happen all at once. To build muscle coordination it is useful to separate the actions and practice them individually. Though I created a definitive order to follow, know that it is beneficial to mix up the 3 steps and put them out of order. You may find another combination to work better for your body! The dotted red line above indicates the path of the bottom wingtip of the scapula. If you do not push the bottom wing tip, it will wind up closer to the spine. It is helpful to record a video yourself to see where your shoulder blades are on your back.

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Depression of the Scapula

Pulling your shoulders down away from the ears is the opposite of everything I have mentioned in this post, however it is an important action to work on especially for arm balances like side plank because depression creates stability when the arms are at or below shoulder height.

When Can I Relax My Shoulders?

One of the best parts about getting stronger with shoulder elevation (upward rotation) is that the muscles of your upper trapezius will become more supple and be able to relax more easily. Just like after working really hard in a yoga class, when you feel that complete relaxation in your body, each of your muscles experience that after being strengthened. There are plenty of times to relax your shoulders down your back – just not when you reach your arms overhead. So when you are sitting in your chair, you can think shoulders move slightly back and shoulder blades relax downward. When you are in a strong posture like crow pose and your upper arms are not overhead, you can even work on strengthening the muscles of depression of the scapula. My philosophy on the body is that there are no wrong actions or muscle engagements, there are just appropriate and inappropriate times to use them.

A great rule of thumb you can take with you: when in doubt just let your shoulders follow your hands – if the hands go up, let your shoulders go up, if they go down let them go down, if you reach forward let them go forward, etc. Enjoy your exploration, thank you for stopping by!

-Matt

 

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